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Meditation 720
Jail for insulting the Pope?

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This July, the Italian comedian, Sabrina Guzzanti, criticizing the Pope for the Catholic Church position on homosexuality said in front of a large crowd in Rome's Piazza Novana "But then, within 20 years the Pope will be where he ought to be — in Hell, tormented by great big poofter devils, and very active ones, not passive ones."[1]

Needless to say, the Vatican was not pleased and released a statement expressing "profound displeasure with the offensive words about the Holy Father."

Fair enough. That should have been the end of it, right?

But no! Italy, under Mussolini, signed a treaty with the Vatican back in 1929. One of the clauses in the Lateran Treaties provides that offenses against the Pope should be treated the same as offenses against the Italian president. In Italy, you can't insult the President, so you can't insult the Pope. It's illegal, and there is a penalty of up to five years in jail.

Giovanni Ferrara, the public prosecutor in Rome, is seeking permission from the Government to prosecute the case.

Interestingly, Dante's Inferno, possibly the greatest work of Italian literature also consigned a then living pope, Boniface VIII, to hell. Is some public prosecutor going to try to ban that book? It's a little too late to jail Dante himself.

It's not that long ago we had the furor over the Mohammed cartoons. That was regarded by most in the West as a free speech issue. But how can we criticize the Islamic world for taking offense and demanding punishment when a religious leader in a western nation is protected by law from criticism?

Is the Papacy in any way hurt by a suggestion the current Pope or any of his predecessors might burn in hell? If so, then Catholic Church's problem is far greater than one Italian comedian. There are any number of fundamentalist Christian churches that preach this as basic doctrine. And it's highly unlikely that it is preached in any mosque that the Pope will be getting the virgin package in the afterlife, the imams will have him going to their hell too.

Yes, it is insulting to the Pope to suggest that he will spend eternity being buggered by devils. But still, it should not be a crime. The Pope should be capable of ignoring it, or, in keeping with Christian teaching, forgiving it.

Perhaps it would be best if criticism of religion were limited to ideas, but ultimately, given the nature of religion, the ideas tend to be inextricably tied to individuals.

Religious figures whether they be dead, alive or mythical, neither require nor deserve greater protection from the written or spoken word than anyone else. They do not need the law to insulate them from insult. To shelter behind special laws is a sign of weakness, not strength.


  1. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article4732048.ece